Urban Territory: Violent Political Technologies in London and Kano

This is my abstract for the AAG meeting in Los Angeles next April. It will be part of the ‘Violence and Space’ sessions organised by Philippe le Billon and Simon Springer – call for papers here. I’ll also be part of a panel on Sloterdijk organised by Oliver Belcher and Julian Reid.

I’ve been trying to make sense of the Kano attacks in January which Susan was caught up in, and I’ve been disappointed by the coverage of Boko Haram generally. This paper will attempt to pull together what I’ve heard with what I’ve read. I wasn’t sure I had enough to make a paper, until I hit on the idea of the territorialisation of the urban, and this linked it to the recent discussions of the Territorial Support Group and the literature on urban geopolitics. The Foucault hook came to me when out on the bike.

In the ‘Space, Knowledge, and Power’ interview, Foucault discusses how manuals of police suggested that “the government of a large state like France should ultimately think of its territory on the model of a city… A state will be well organized when a system of policing as tight and efficient as that of the cities extends over the entire territory. At the outset, the notion of police applied only to the set of regulations that were to assure the tranquillity of a city, but at that moment the police became the very type of rationality for the government of the whole territory. The model of the city became the matrix for the regulations that apply to a whole state” (The Foucault Reader, p. 241).

What if, today, the reverse was the case? Instead of urban order being the model for territorial rule, what if strategies previously used to control territory were now being utilised to police urban space? This is not to suggest that territory is becoming urbanised, but that the urban is becoming territorialised. As I’ve argued elsewhere, the linkage between terror and territory is important, as a means by which violence is used to establish, maintain and challenge the control of space. How does this work in an urban context? I disagree with Foucault’s historical theorisation of territory, but his work on rationalities and calculative techniques is extremely helpful in thinking about territory historically and politically. And while I do not think we can straight-forwardly label sub-national spaces as territories, thinking territory as a political technology is helpful in making sense of the techniques of rule used in urban locations.

Writers like Stephen Graham and Saskia Sassen have proposed a notion of ‘urban geopolitics’. Taking up the suggestion of the militarisation of urban space, but relating this more explicitly to the question of territory, this paper tries to work through conceptual and political issues that relate to the panel theme of ‘Violence and Space’. Its examples will be the British police’s Territorial Support Group and the January 20th Boko Haram attacks and government response in Kano, Nigeria.

This entry was posted in Conferences, Michel Foucault, Peter Sloterdijk, Politics, Stephen Graham, Territory, Terror and Territory, urban/urbanisation. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Urban Territory: Violent Political Technologies in London and Kano

  1. normanc25 says:

    The Guardian 29/08/12 carries news -http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/aug/28/nigerian-church-bans-towering-headwraps – of a ban on the large and ornate head wraps worn by women, announced at a church in the south eastern Enugu state. The report adds:
    “The crackdown on geles is one of a series of increasing security measures after Nigeria endured a spate of bomb attacks on churches and mosques from militant Islamist group Boko Haram. This year it has targeted at least six churches in northern and central Nigeria, prompting fears it is trying to ignite a sectarian war among Nigeria’s evenly split Muslims and Christians. It has never struck a southern Nigerian state.”
    So small mention at least of the increasing fear of random attacks by Boko Haram and a non- state response.

    Frustratingly although you write ” I’ve been trying to make sense of the Kano attacks” the abstract dwells almost exclusively on the state response to Boko Haram with no reference to the origins of the terrorism despite your stated interest in the wider phenomenon.

    • stuartelden says:

      Obviously an abstract cannot say everything, and the focus of the abstract is on the overall question. Boko Haram is only mentioned in a single line of the abstract. Part of the point of commiting to giving this paper is do some research, thinking and writing about this topic. My focus here and elsewhere is on the territorial aspects, rather than what you call ‘origins of terrorism’, but if you look at Chapter Two of my book Terror and Territory you will find a lot about the terrorist groups, rather than just state responses. For this paper, my interest is in how Boko Haram and the Nigerian state conducted their operations in urban space, and how this relates to strategies used in relation to territory more generally.

  2. normanc25 says:

    I’ve been able to read chapter 2 of Terror and Territory as this much is available via the amazon website… but no further.
    The (interim) conclusion that groups such as al-qaeda can thrive in ‘spaces of exploitation’, liminal zones, seems a continuing hypothesis.
    An article in the current London Review of Books charts the “accidental coup” in Mali and the (unintended) consequences which widened that ‘space’ in the north of the country allowing an emboldened islamist presence. Their destruction of built and archival heritage in Timbuctu and Gao could be a demonstration of territorial initiative or of a particular interpretation of the caliphate-in-waiting.

    I’d take issue with your claim for the way in which division of the Ottoman empire was done on paper in comparison with “later parts of British and French possessions in Africa”(p47)
    Below is from a Pulitzer Center report- http://pulitzercenter.org/reporting/burkina-faso-mali-border-control-political-corruption-ethnic-conflict-drought-refugee-crisis

    “Burkina Faso, like Mali, is a former French colony, but one the French neglected. Given its confusing colonial history, the country could be forgiven had it become an unstable failed state, which it hasn’t. France re-cut Upper Volta, as Burkina Faso was known before independence, seven times, sectioning off pieces to neighbor colonies. In 1932, France abolished Upper Volta altogether, folding it into Ivory Coast. But in 1947, Paris changed its mind and Upper Volta was reinstated along its former borders. Finally, in 1960, Upper Volta and the rest of French West Africa became countries to the surprise of a vast rural population. Citizens of these colonies had had little contact with the French and the lines they drew, not to mention the new countries of which most were now citizens—Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Upper Volta, Niger, Benin, Guinea, and Ivory Coast. The French drew the borders on paper, not on the ground, which helps explain the mess that has split Mali.”

    The report also usefully charts the sophisticated power intrigues deployed by Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore
    His diplomacy is given a less charitable review as more typical of the ‘big man’ style at http://africanarguments.org/2012/08/15/burkina-faso-blaise-compaore-and-the-politics-of-personal-enrichment-by-peter-dorrie/
    The territorial aspects are clearly significant.

    • stuartelden says:

      Thanks for the interest. I only mention Mali in passing in the book, in the context of the ICJ’s 1986 judgment concerning Burkina Faso and Mali which is important in terms of uti possidetis. The claim you are refering to on p. 47 is in terms of the borders of independent states in post-World War II decolonisation. It’s not intended to refer to territorial practices and boundary drawing during the period of colonisation itself.

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  4. Clare O'Farrell says:

    Reblogged this on Foucault News.

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